Effect of Family Structure on Life Satisfaction: Australian Evidence

Melbourne Institute Working Paper No. 24/04

Date: September 2004


M. D. R. Evans
Jonathan Kelley


How do family arrangements affect subjective wellbeing? We investigate this issue using data from a representative national sample of Australia (N=26,009). Our results suggest that commitment is the key: the security and legal recognition of a formal marriage makes both women and men happier. Thus the traditional pattern of life-long marriage increases the sum of human happiness. A less traditional pattern of early divorce followed by an enduring second marriage is little worse. But the increasingly common modern patterns of divorce without remarriage, or long lasting co-habitation without formal marriage, reduce the sum of human happiness by 5% to 10% for both women and men.

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